The Idea of an Exact Number: Children's Understanding of Cardinality and Equinumerosity



Understanding what numbers are means knowing several things. It means knowing how counting relates to numbers (called the cardinal principle or cardinality); it means knowing that each number is generated by adding one to the previous number (called the successor function or succession), and it means knowing that all and only sets whose members can be placed in one-to-one correspondence have the same number of items (called exact equality or equinumerosity). A previous study (Sarnecka & Carey, 2008) linked children's understanding of cardinality to their understanding of succession for the numbers five and six. This study investigates the link between cardinality and equinumerosity for these numbers, finding that children either understand both cardinality and equinumerosity or they understand neither. This suggests that cardinality and equinumerosity (along with succession) are interrelated facets of the concepts five and six, the acquisition of which is an important conceptual achievement of early childhood.